Apollo Eric of Point50Capital
by Kendi Gikunda
Today we sat down and had a chat with Apollo Eric of Point50Capital. This is a guy who cycles to work, IN NAIROBI. He runs, roller blades and does yoga. He is up by 3:00 am or 4:00 am Kenyan time depending on what he is doing on that day. He has so much energy you would feel unhealthy looking at him.
I studied Medical Biotechnology but I focused on IT. I attended classes with Computer Science students and I knew I loved IT from early on so I devoted a lot of my time in IT classes even those that weren’t necessary just to gain the knowledge.
How did you get into IT and entrepreneurship?
I have never had a normal job like an 8-5. I was an entrepreneur from early on. When I was a teenager I was a hawker to make money to support my family, pay for my school fees and those of my siblings.
After I got my degree I couldn’t get a traditional job as much as I wanted to, apart from contractual work here and there as an IT freelancer. Tired of dropping my CV’s everywhere getting back to the house around noon, I would go online to do trading. That’s how I learned to trade: online. Just in case anyone will be reading this and thinks online trading is a quick fix to getting rich: think twice before you start! The first few years I lost as much as I gained and I was one of the more lucky ones! It is very easy to get lost in the excitement, overcommit and lose all you have.
It was at this time that I also started at The Entrepreneurs Hub working as a Project Manager. I worked there for two years and then quit. I went full time into trading but now commodities like coffee, tea and oil. I also started trading in forex and over the years my business continued to grow.
Three years ago I got interested in blockchain and I started to read up the technology and its opportunities. Overall, online work needs a lot of research so I invest a lot in it. There is so much happening on a daily basis!
What does a typical working day for you look like?
I don’t work with the normal working times in the Kenyan time zone: for example, the Asian market is active to from 2am to 6am Kenyan time, whereas the European market is active from 8am to 2pm Kenyan time and the USA market is active from around 4:00 pm to 11:00 pm. So I tend to get the markets when they open and when they close and do my research in-between. Of course I have also my clients to meet and my other projects to run. Sometimes it feels like I am living three lives instead of one.
When was your company founded?
I started the company in 2013 but the name Point50Capital came about in 2015. It comes from my first strategy where I would place a trade and when the price would move 50 points upwards or downwards I would lock in the profit. The Point50 has stuck with me ever since.
So jumping to the informal title of Blockchain Bigwig, what is blockchain and what does it do to?
Blockchain is the technology that most cryptocurrency run on. It is an open, distributed ledger that can record transactions between two parties efficiently in a verifiable and permanent way.
Why should I care about blockchain as a Kenyan?
Blockchain is by far the most innovative technological breakthrough after the internet. It allows for peer to peer transfer of value from person to another without an intermediary. Think about cross-border transfers or remittances that in the current financial system must rely on swift/money gram/western-union/bank/telcos in the case of mobile money to happen. With blockchain you can send money directly to anyone, in any part of the world without a trusted third party making it cheaper, convenient and much more secure.
Blockchain is more than the technology behind cryptocurrency though. Its application cuts across diverse sectors of the economy. Any industry which has transactional details, record keeping and trusted intermediaries can and will eventually apply an aspect of blockchain tech. From agriculture, education, judiciary, government and solar energy to creative industries whose work involve the creative production of pure intellectual content like music and photography.
How secure is blockchain?
Records kept in the blockchain network are the most secure. Thousands of computers distributed around the world called miners, each maintain a copy of the ledger/record. So if you are going to breach the integrity of the data, you have to hack into all those thousands/millions of computers around the world simultaneously and change their content in less than 10 minutes. No software program or computer in the world has that computational capacity right now.
Have there been attacks or hacking incidents in blockchain?
Information in the blockchain networks are immutable, meaning they are so secure you cannot hack. Hacking incidents have occurred in trading exchanges and wallets, but these are normally centralized exchanges. None of the real decentralized exchanges have ever been hacked thus far. The irony is that even today, most cryptocurrency trading and investment activities are still concentrated in those centralized exchanges with multiple security flaws and numerous points of weaknesses.
What is a wallet?
Wallet is just an application where you can store your digital money or cryptocurrency. Depending on which device you are using, you can search from the popular play stores and download them for free. When dealing with a significant amount of cryptocurrency, I always advice people to keep it off-line. Most wallets exist outside the blockchain network and therefore prone to security breaches. There are cold hardware wallets where you can safely store your cryptocurrency off-line.
How did blockchain make the original jump from cryptocurrency to full-fledged technology?
Blockchain is simply the combination of two scientific fields, namely cryptography and distributed computing. Until 2008, these two technologies existed for over four decades mainly in the academia and research. An anonymous programmer known worldwide by the name of Satoshi Nakamoto, published an academic paper which described in details a new way of transferring money/value without relying on intermediaries like banks. This was just two months after the Global Financial Crisis in Feb 2009. Perfect timing! That is how bitcoin came into existence. Since then, a number of open-source project have come up, most of which are trying to solve some aspects decentralized money system that bitcoin never addressed adequately.
Talking of Bitcoin, the Million Dollar Question every Kenyan is asking: is it a scam?
Bitcoin in itself is not a scam but there are very many scams associated with Bitcoin. Bitcoin is an open-source project developed by very smart and advanced computer programmers whose software code is freely available for anyone to download and independently audit. Many proponents of the theory that Bitcoin is a scam compare it to pyramid schemes. A pyramid scheme rests on the original creators of the system roping in as many suckers as possible, paying them for enrolling people in the system rather than by offering goods and services. Eventually you run out of people to bring in and the whole things collapses like a house of cards.
The irony of course is that fiat currency, i.e. government printed money like Kenyan Shillings, Euros or US dollars, are closer to a pyramid scheme than Bitcoin. Think back of the shutdown by the American Government this week: they can only pay their debts by deciding to simply print more paper. The link with gold has not been there since the Bretton Woods system was suspended in 1971. Sooner or later the world can’t carry all this debt anymore and we will have another great depression like in the 1920s.
What if I can’t fully wrap my brain around cryptocurrencies like bitcoin and ether?
Knowledge is the first line of defense against scams and pyramid schemes associated with cryptocurrencies. You should check websites like bitcoin.info or etherium.org for educational purposes. We are also co-hosting the World Blockchain Summit in March 22-23 in Nairobi. Our partner Trescon Global is a world leader in organizing tech events across the world. Previous Summits have been held in London, New York, Singapore, Beijng, to name just a few. I am very proud Nairobi will not only be their first blockchain summit of 2018, but the very first ever blockchain summit in Africa.
Can you tell me a bit more what this Summit is about?
We are looking to explore the applications of blockchain technology in the Continent of Africa beyond the hype around virtual currency like Bitcoin. This event will bring together entrepreneurs, tech-enthusiasts, thought-leaders and industry experts in blockchain to discuss, network, interact, and educate people about the potential uses and application of this emerging decentralized digital economy.
It will also feature real life demonstrations and show-case of some of the cutting edge solutions from start-ups from around the world.
At the end of the show, we will spark a conversation about the commercial opportunities that exist in the African Continent as well as start addressing some of the challenges that must be overcome if the full potential of blockchain is to be realized.
Thank you. You have given me a lot of information! My final question: if I want to know more, do you have any recommended readings or videos for me to get started on blockchain?
If you are a programmer or a coder, you can go to GitHub and look at the open source blockchain projects that are ongoing: https://github.com
If you are interested to know what’s new, there are many threads on Reddit that are related to blockchain and cryptocurrency: eg. https://www.reddit.com/r/BlockChain/
If you just want news about bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, there is Coindesk (https://www.coindesk.com) or Cointelegraph (https://cointelegraph.com).
Finally, for the absolute beginners, this article with accompanying video gives a good introduction: https://www.computerworld.com/article/3191077/security/what-is-blockchain-the-most-disruptive-tech-in-decades.html